Virginia, Maryland, federal officials warn of more mystery seeds in the mail from China

Hundreds more people in Maryland and Virginia have reported receiving mysterious packets of seeds in the mail that look like they’ve come from China. The Department of Agriculture is working to identify them and there is concern people could be planting an invasive species.

Days after first alerting residents to unlabeled seed packets showing up in mailboxes across the commonwealth, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs spokesman Michael Wallace said the department received more than 900 emails and hundreds of calls from consumers reporting they’d gotten a similar package.

The packages are addressed to the resident and some say they contain earrings or necklaces, but Wallace said the recipient finds a nondescript plastic bag of seeds inside.

“It is too early to tell if it’s being sent to one particular ZIP code or area. Right now, it appears to be all over the state, as well as all over the nation,” said Wallace.

More than 1,000 consumers have reported receiving seed packets like this one in the mail from a Chinese source. (Courtesy Virginia Department of Agriculture)

The seed packets were first reported by residents in Utah weeks ago, but after a warning to Virginia residents issued last Friday garnered national attention, consumers from across the country began reporting their cases to Virginia’s Department of Agriculture.

Wallace said he’s heard from residents in Maryland, North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio, to name a few.

Maryland’s Department of Agriculture is also getting consumer calls but it didn’t want to quantify how many since they continue to come in, according to department spokesman Jason Schellhardt.

The department issued a notice on social media to residents asking them not to open the seeds, not to plant them, and to report them to the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Plant Protection and Weed Management program.

Consumers are reporting receiving different types of seeds. However, it’s still unclear what types of plants grow from the seeds.

The investigation is too new, and seed packets are still coming in to be tested, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture has not said what the seeds are.

“The concern is that these seeds may be invasive species. Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, destroy and displace native plants and insects, and severely damage crops as well as they may be harmful to people. We want to encourage people not to plant these seeds, not to open the packages, but to contact the state department of agriculture in the state where they reside so they can respond,” Wallace said.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is investigating, it said in a release.

“APHIS is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection and state departments of agriculture to prevent the unlawful entry of prohibited seeds and protect U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and noxious weeds.”

In providing guidance to consumers, the USDA suggests that “anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds from China should immediately contact their state plant regulatory official or APHIS state plant health director. Please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from your state department of agriculture or APHIS contacts you with further instructions. Do not plant seeds from unknown origins.”

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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